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House Robbery vs House Burglary – Is There a Difference?

Crime is something that almost everyone has experienced, especially in our own homes. If you ever had to come home and you realised that some of your items were missing and you call the police, what kind of crime would you be reporting?

People tend to use the terms robbery and burglary interchangeably. However, these words have different definitions even though they refer to unlawfully taking someone else’s possessions. So, what are the differences between the crimes?

What is a House Burglary?

House burglary refers to the crime where someone forcibly enters your home without using open doors or climbing through open windows. It requires the burglars to break a window or a sliding door screen in order to enter. The purpose of a house burglary is to commit a crime such as theft, arson or vandalism, and the intent of the crime must be proven. In most instances, before the burglary occurs, the burglars will watch the place first before choosing to make a move. There is a common misconception that house burglaries only happen late at night when people are usually sleeping, but they can occur at any time of the day. The most popular times of house burglaries are during the evening and then the second most popular time is in the afternoon.

In South Africa, house burglary is the most common crime that is experienced by households. The figures for house burglaries have increased in the last five years as 2.3 million households have experienced a burglary. 53% of households experience house burglaries each year in the country. During 2019/20, 51.7% of households reported having experienced burglaries which is an alarming number.

The most common months to experience house burglaries are June, September and December. It is also interesting to note that households that are part of the lowest and highest income bracket were most likely to experience house burglaries. Low-income families earn between R1- to R1500, whereas the highest income bracket makes around R16 001 and more.

What is a House Robbery?

House robberies are the second most common crimes in South Africa. House robbery refers to the crime where a person takes something that has value from someone’s home, such as money or furniture, without their permission. The items do not need to hold monetary value for it to be considered a home robbery, and they do not have to be successful in their attempt either. Another factor that makes house robberies dangerous is that they occur when there are people at home, and there is the use of intimidation like threats and force, which in most instances includes violence. Due to the violent nature that home robberies have, victims are at risk for experiencing personal injuries and emotional trauma.

In South Africa, the province experiencing the highest rate of house robberies was Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu Natal. 75% of home robberies occur at night, and the most common times for robberies at night are between 21:00 to 23:59. The most popular times for morning robberies are 00:00 and 02:59. These are the most popular times to commit this crime as people are either sleeping or relaxing. Close to 66% of people who commit home robberies consist of small groups with two or three members, and their ages range between 15 to 34 years.

Since home robberies use intimidation and violence in most instances, there is the use of weapons. In home robberies, weapons are used 99.9% of the time; and the most used were guns, followed by knives, metal bars, and axes.

House Robbery and House Burglary

There are apparent differences that exist between house robberies and house burglaries. The first main difference is that one tends to take on a much more violent nature, but the other does not. Both these crimes were least likely to occur during January, May and November. During both house robberies and house burglaries, the most targeted items were electrical goods, the next being money, jewellery and cellphones.

The main reason the rate for house robberies is significantly low compared to that of house burglaries is due to the violence that is accompanied by the crime. Regarding the rates of arrests that occur for both offences, they both are above 18%, whereas the conviction rate stands at 14.3% for house burglaries and 22% for home robberies. In essence, one out of 5 people are arrested for both crimes, while 1 out of 5 people arrested for house burglaries are convicted, and 1 out of 3 people arrested for house robberies are convicted.


Though most people think that house robberies and house burglaries are the same, they are really not. The implications of the crime differ significantly, and it is essential to note those differences.

See Research Study: Understanding and Preventing House Robbery in South Africa.

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